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Work-at-home firms fuel growing questions

Citizen Staff Writer



Tucsonan Roberto delos Santos started fishing for a job late last year and finally got a bite last month.

But he said the work-at-home offer he received smelled worse than last week’s halibut.

Not only did the duties change from what he applied for to what was offered, but they may have bordered on the illegal.

“This made me suspicious,” said the 59-year-old Philippines native who was recently authorized to work in the United States. “It’s a good thing I had the presence of mind to check out the company.”

Because of a desperate economy and equally desperate job seekers, barely a day goes by that the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona doesn’t receive at least one phone call or e-mail about work-at-home organizations, said acting president Kim States.

“Folks who may not have given it a second thought are now considering it,” States said. “It’s so dangerous out there. Scam artists know it.”

Since December 2007, the Tucson metro area has lost 15,700 jobs. The state has lost 116,500 and has a jobless rate of 6.9 percent. The national unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.

Inquiries into work-at-home organizations more than tripled in the past three years, topping off at 3,275 in 2008. This is up from 791 in 2006 and 1,873 in 2007.

“Some people will ask, ‘Do you know of any legitimate work-at-home organizations?’ But no one source is vetting all this,” States said.

Work-at-home entities can be broken down into two types: work-at-home opportunities, where people are urged to set up their own business at home; and work-at-home companies, where people work from home for the benefit of a parent company. Both can be equally risky.

The FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center continue to receive many complaints from people who were victimized, the FBI reports.

“These work-at-home schemes are designed by criminals to gain the trust of job seekers in order to take advantage of working relationships to further illegal activity,” the FBI advises on its Web site. “Most victims do not even realize they are engaging in criminal behavior until it is too late.”

Complaints filed against work-at-home organizations in southern Arizona are generally low, but the BBB warns that doesn’t mean the businesses are credible.

“Because these types of companies come and go quickly, the lack of complaints with the BBB is not a good indicator that the company is legitimate,” according to the BBB site. “Victims may be too embarrassed to complain, or the scheme may be structured to make it look like the victims did not work hard enough.”

CashKrazy.com, a company that promises to pay people for filling out online surveys, has amassed 24 complaints and 627 inquiries since it was established by Scott Hillegass in June 2008.

Efforts to reach Hillegass were unsuccessful and no one responded to an e-mail sent to the support address on the company’s Web site.

Southern Arizona’s BBB has a list of 46 work-at-home organizations, 19 of which have disappeared.

“We are reporting them as out of business as they won’t return our requests for info,” States said.

A.I.G. Inc., where delos Santos applied, is one of those companies. He first heard about the company on Jan. 24, when he received an e-mailed job opportunity with a link after posting an application on CareerBuilder.com.

He was initially lured by the company’s name, which he associated with AIG Inc., the insurance company with a similar title. He noted the BBB logo on the company’s Web site, even though he later learned A.I.G. Inc. was not an accredited business.

He also liked the job description. A.I.G. Inc. needed – an administrative assistant at $3,600 per month for standard clerical duties completed from home.

He responded to the link he received and the company sent him an offer.

“The duties were no longer what they initially were listed as,” he said. “I would be accepting money through eBay, Yahoo and forwarding checks to the company. Another duty was accepting shipments of packages, laptops, electronics.”

Other people who have posted résumés at CareerBuilder.com have also received e-mails offering them work-at-home opportunities.

Many offers contain typos, stilted English and schemes that sound anything but legitimate.

One from a company in Greece told people they could keep up to 5 percent of the profits from transferring money internationally.

A Santa Monica, Calif., company promised “$143.50 and up per day” for at-home data entry.

Another company that has no location listed offers to pay people for processing responses to online ads. “This is a legitimate offer,” the letter said.

“CareerBuilder.com takes the issue of fraudulent activity very seriously,” said Michael Erwin, senior manager of corporate communications.

CareerBuilder, like many other online job sites, has measures in place to protect its users.

Some include closely monitoring account activity and database purchases as well as immediately investigating anything suspicious.

Some online job sites are also part of the Anti-phishing Working Group, which shares information with other online databases, helps to prevent frauds and tracks down people who post scams.

Since delos Santos stopped before he accepted the A.I.G. Inc. offer or gave the company any pertinent information, he may have avoided the fate of many who are often connived out of money, time and left with a ruined reputation, according to the BBB Web site.

He also found a job at a local call center, at a company he researched before the interview.

“That’s the first thing I did,” delos Santos said with a laugh. “Before committing to anything, check out the company. A lot of people out there want to take advantage of the situation.”

Continued from 1A

Work-at-home firms fuel growing questions

Scam warnings

• Don’t fall for jobs that ask you to “transfer money,” “process funds” or “reship products.”

• Refrain from “mystery shopper” jobs that ask you to cash checks and wire the funds to “test” a company’s services.

• Beware of how much personal information you provide to potential employers, such as bank account and Social Security numbers

• Be wary of overstated claims, exaggerated earnings, the promise of “inside” information or companies that state “no experience necessary.”

• Don’t believe generic testimonials from people whom you cannot contact to verify if the testimonials are true.

• Beware of companies that never offer regular, salaried employment but huge profits and part-time earnings.

Sources: FBI, Internet Crime Complaint Center, Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona

Common scams

• Assemble products at home

• Make money stuffing envelopes

• Pass on the chain letter or be plagued with bad luck

• Pyramid schemes that claim you can retire and live off the wages of others once you sell a certain amount of products

• Processing medical claims online

Source: Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona

If scammed or suspicious

Contact the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona at 888-5353 or www.tucson.bbb.org.

Data Thieves Strike Monster.com

Database thieves recently invaded the job site Monster.com, according to an alert posted Jan. 23 on the site by Patrick Manzo, senior vice president and global chief privacy officer for Monster Worldwide.

He said the thieves stole user IDs and passwords, phone numbers and basic demographic data but did not take any résumés.

“As is the case with many companies that maintain large databases of information,” Manzo wrote, “Monster is the target of illegal attempts to access and extract information from its database.”

He urged users to change their passwords for increased security.

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